Three people have been sentenced to life in prison on federal cyberstalking charges, the sentences are the first successful application of the new cyberstalking law that holds individuals accountable for actively taking part in “planning crimes” even if they don’t actual pull the trigger. A man named David Matusiewicz, his sister, and mother were all sentenced to life for a cyberstalking campaign that lasted four years and ended with the death of three individuals. The man’s father was responsible for pulling the trigger which left David’s ex-wife and friend dead. However, after killing the two women, the father turned the gun on himself. As a result of the double murder-suicide, federal prosecutors learned that David, his sister Amy Gonzalez and his mother Lenore had all actively participated in a cyberstalking campaign against David’s ex-wife Christine Belford leading up to her murder.
The Daily Mail reports that David Matusiewicz devised the plan to slander his ex-wife Christine Belford while he was serving a 48-month jail term for abducting his children and hiding out with them for 19 months in Nicaragua and other countries. Matusiewicz and his mother had taken his three children to Nicaragua during a custody dispute with Christine in 2011. However, the children were located and returned to the United States with a judge revoking David’s parental rights and giving full custody to Christine. David served 48-months in jail for the kidnapping of the children and during that time had hashed out a plan to ruin Christine Belford.
— Reuters U.S. News (@ReutersUS) February 19, 2016
David recruited his parents and sister to partake in a three- to four-year cyber campaign to discredit Christine, including making online allegations that Christine had sexually abused their oldest daughter. However, police say that the allegations were not substantiated and that the daughter claimed no such abuse was taking place. According to the police, David, his parents and sister partook in a four-year campaign of letters, websites and Internet postings to “stalk, harass, and intimidate” Belford in a bid for David to regain custody of his three children.
However, the incident didn’t stop with online harassment. Just before a February 11, 2013, child support hearing, David approached Christine and her friend Laura Mulford at the courthouse lobby with his father. The father had a gun and opened fire on Christine and her friend, killing both in the courthouse lobby. After killing the two women, the father, Thomas Matusiewicz, exchanged shots with the police before turning the gun on himself.
The murder-suicide left three people dead and was the culmination of the four year cyberbullying campaign orchestrated by David, his sister, and mother. With Thomas Matusiewicz dead, police turned their investigation to the three remaining cyberstalking individuals. The three were later charged under a new law that holds individuals accountable for murder if they participate in the orchestrating of the murder using cyberstalking. The three were sentenced to “conspiracy and of cyberstalking resulting in death.” The charges resulted in a judge finding all three guilty with each being sentenced to life in prison.
The Matusiewicz case is the first case in which the cyberstalking resulting in death charge has successfully been argued. Therefore, Kevin Perkins, special agent in charge of the FBI in Delaware, notes that it opens the door to charging more individuals with the crime of cyberstalking when the Internet stalking leads to the death of the victim.
“This ground-breaking prosecution and investigation shows people who actively take part in planning crimes, even though they don’t pull the trigger, will be held accountable.”
— NBC10 Philadelphia (@NBCPhiladelphia) February 18, 2016
What do you think about the cyberstalking resulting in death charge? Will this case open the flood gates to prosecution of individuals who use the Internet to entice others to commit crimes or suicide? Should individuals be held more accountable for speech that incites violence? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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